International Religious Freedom Report
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion. The Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is the state church, enjoys some benefits not available to other faiths. In addition, Muslims encountered some difficulties in obtaining local permission to build mosques.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total area of 150,000 square miles and its population is approximately 4.5 million. Citizens are considered to be members of the state church unless they explicitly associate themselves with another denomination; 93 percent of the population nominally belong to the state church. However, actual church attendance is considered to be rather low. Other denominations operate freely.

In 2000, 254,854 persons were registered in religious communities outside the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway. An additional 31,757 persons belong to unregistered communities.

The major registered religions and religious groups are: Islam (49,633 members); Pentecostal congregations (45,006 members); Roman Catholic Church (42,598 members); Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Norway (21,163 members); Jehovah's Witnesses (15,055 members); Methodist Church of Norway (13,130 members); Norwegian Baptist Union (10,352 members); Church of Norway Mission Covenants (8,309 members); and the Buddhist Federation (7,031 members). Other groups include Orthodox Jews, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, and Hindus. In addition, there is one main organization for the nonreligious or atheists, which is the Norwegian Humanist Association. The Association has 67,950 registered adult members and 10,000 to 12,000 children as associate members. Persons cannot register as full members until they reach early adulthood.

Members of registered religious communities outside the state church are concentrated in the Oslo region and the west coast region of the country. The Hordaland, Rogaland, and Vest Agder districts have the highest number of members of religious communities outside the state church. The majority of European and American immigrants are either Christians or nonreligious, the exception being Muslim refugees from Bosnia and Kosovo. Most non-European immigrants practice Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism.

Foreign missionaries and other religious workers operate freely in the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels generally protects this right in full and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Norway is the state Church. It is supported financially by the State, and there is a constitutional requirement that the King and one-half of the Cabinet belong to this church. The relationship between the Church and the State regularly generates discussion. Church officials have spoken in favor of a greater separation in the state-church relationship. However, there were no significant developments in this debate during the period covered by this report.

A religious community is required to register with the Government only if it desires state support, which is provided to all registered denominations on a proportional basis in accordance with membership.

The Government promotes interfaith understanding by providing funding to the Cooperation Council for Faith and Secular Society (see Section III). In the past, the Government has provided funds for the operation of the office of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Intolerance. As of 2000, these specially earmarked funds no longer have been granted; however, the Government continues to support the office through its overall funding to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR).

Foreign religious workers from countries whose citizens Norway requires visas need to obtain such visas before entering the country. In addition, all foreign religious workers from countries outside the European Union or European Economic Area must apply for work permits. There is no government registration of foreign religious workers beyond the regularly established database of issued work permits.

In October 1995, the Storting (Parliament) passed a law introducing the subject "Religious Knowledge and Education in Ethics" in the school system. The legality of imposing compulsory teaching of Christianity and Christian ethics in public schools has been contested in court by both the Norwegian Humanist Association and the Moslem Council. These cases have been appealed to the Supreme Court after lower level courts ruled in favor of the State. The Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling in August 2001. Currently, the law has been implemented in all public schools. On special grounds students may be exempted from participating in or performing specific religious acts such as church services or prayer, but may not forgo instruction in the subject as a whole. Students and workers who belong to minority denominations are allowed leave for the celebration of their religious holidays.

In July 1998, the Government suspended two priests in the Church of Norway and asked the courts for approval to terminate legally their priesthood due to insubordination and disloyalty. The conservative priests, serving in a rural community, openly had refused to accept religious and spiritual guidance from their liberal bishop based in the provincial capital. The parties were in disagreement on a number of social issues (such as gay rights). In January 2000, the Alta county court ruled that the two local priests could not be fired due to insubordination and disloyalty. The Minister of Church Affairs appealed the decision to the Haalogaland district court. The Haalogaland District Court ruled against the two priests. One of the priests accepted the ruling, and has now left his position. The other priest appealed his case to the Supreme Court. The appeals selection committee of the Supreme Court has not yet decided whether the Supreme Court will hear the case.

Norwegian Muslims encountered some difficulties in obtaining local permission to build mosques in areas where they are concentrated. Since 1975 the town council in Drammen has regularly turned down applications to build a mosque.

The Workers' Protection and Working Environment Act permits prospective employers to ask job applicants for positions in private or religious schools, or in day care centers, whether they agree to teach and behave in accordance with the institutions or religion's beliefs and principles.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U.S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the Government's refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

A Cooperation Council for Faith and Secular Society was established in 1996 and consists of the state church and other religious communities, including the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and secular humanist communities. At a 1998 conference, the Oslo Coalition for Freedom of Religious Beliefs was formed in order to facilitate closer coordination and international cooperation.

The Ecumenical Council of Christian Communities has been active in promoting cooperation within the Christian community. There also has been cooperation between the various religious communities on human rights issues in recent years. Bilateral dialog between the state Church and the Muslim and Jewish communities has generated statements in support of minority rights and human rights.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Embassy discusses religious freedom issues with the Government, particularly during the annual meeting of the UNCHR, in the overall context of the promotion of human rights. Requests to the Embassy from official and nonofficial Norwegians for materials on religious freedom issues increased during the period covered by this report, which is a sign of growing interest in such issues as religious persecution, the church-state relationship, and the balance between freedom of religion and freedom of expression.